Attitudes to disability in school

A tale of personal experience

By Elizabeth Joan Wade

Photo:First year at Malmesbury Technical School

First year at Malmesbury Technical School

Elizabeth Joan Wade

I am sitting 6th from the left in the front row. I was the only disabled pupil in the school and I could never understand why I was different from all my other classmates, which was so hard to deal with, especially as I had no diagnosis. I thought I was some sort of freak unaware, like most other people in the 1950s, that nearly all disabled children were shut away in institutions/care homes - out of sight out of mind - as the saying goes.


Disability then was a badge of shame; a terrible stigma that had to be hidden and never spoken about. As a consequence, no member of staff could help me deal with the psychological implications of the situation I was in. None of my close school friends (Margaret, Janet, Joan and Joy) ever referred to my disability, but the headmistress, Miss Ashton, did make insensitive hurtful remarks about my appearance, while I was standing in her office, following a School Nurse inspection. She told me I was not to wear anything that would draw attention to my legs and advised me to cover them up. Those comments ran deep and etched into my psyche forever. She was a fearful woman and a dreadful snob but, I suppose, like the rest of society in those days not long after WW2, she didn’t know any better and was merely reflecting the general attitude at the time: a hangover from the Hitler Nazi Party’s evil eugenics programme of exterminating anyone who had the misfortune to be less than perfect.

This page was added by Cheryl Bailey on 15/04/2014.

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